The UK's Educational Death Spiral

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

A couple of things caught my eye in the papers over lunch *(I know, I know. Dead tree papers. How very 20th century of me.)

*The first up was this piece about the declining standard of UK graduates, found in the business section of the Telegraph:

The dismal standard of literacy and education in the UK is one of the key reasons that the economy’s efficiency has plunged in recent years, according to the chief economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

That’s absolutely no surprise to me. The media tends to get all worked up over education standards when the A-level results come out, and the teachers protest that improved results are all down to improved teaching. Then everything goes quiet again. Talk to most people working on the frontline of higher education, though, and they’ll tell you of their despair at the quality of school-leavers coming into Universities. Eventually, the need to teach literacy and numeracy to undergraduates is going to impact on the quality at the end of the process and employers are going to see it.

Following that was a piece in The Guardian about inadequate nursery nurses harming the development of children:

Nursery nurses with few qualifications and poor social skills risk creating a generation of Vicky Pollards, teachers’ leaders warned yesterday.

Too many illiterate students were starting childcare courses as an easy way to get government grants paid to encourage students to stay in education, the Professional Association of Teachers warned.

So, poor quality graduates are starting to return to the education system, and are undermining the next generation of kids to come through.

It’s beginning to look a little like a death spiral isn’t it? And when both the right wing and left wing newspapers are reporting on it, we should be getting really worried. Yet, it just doesn’t seem to be on the political agenda. And that scares me.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.